Last updated on August 30th, 2019
In Northern Minnesota, everyone hears stories of black bears. Every time I would go to the BWCA to pick up my permit, they make you watch the video about what to do if you run into a bear. I know they are there. But seeing one with your own eyes makes the whole thing more real. When planning a trip up to Orr MN, I heard about an incredible Bear Sanctuary. But I had no idea that the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary would be so amazing.
Who is Vince Shute?
Vice was a logger in Orr MN. On his camp, his men and he were having a hard time dealing with the bears. They keep getting into their homes after they smelled the fresh foods they were cooking. Needing to protect himself, they decided to kill the bears. He started to think he had killed them all and was disgusted with himself. He went back to his place to find two more bears inside helping themselves to more food. The bears fled, even one went out the window. Vince realized “they were not mean, only hungry”.
The next morning when he was making pancakes, he made a few extras and set them outside away from the camp. Instead of the bears coming inside to eat, they helped themselves to the plate and were on their way. He found a new solution for his bear problem. He realized that we could live together in the world. It ended up causing a different problem.
More bears started to come. Word spread of what he was doing and people like Karen Hauserman started to help. According to Karen, “In 1993 a photographer Bill Lea and his wife Klari visited, Vince expressed his wishes and concerns many times to the 3 of us about what he wanted to happen out there. Eventually, the 3 of us were able to form the American Bear Association and got it started even in spite of numerous obstacles.”
Since the creation of the American Bear Association was formed, more focus has been on health and interactions with the bears. It’s amazing what they have done up there.
The Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary
The Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary has created a unique magic circle where they live harmoniously with the bears. Each evening the staff places food out throughout the circle. Inside the bears get the right of way to any pathways. It is their safe space. If a bear is outside of the circle, they are subject to negative reinforcement when they meet people. This includes loud horns and yelling.
The Sanctuary no longer serves pancakes to the bears but gets donations of more bear appropriate foods and less sugary treats. Every single bear visiting the sanctuary is wild. This is not a zoo. They do not get human contact, are not fed by hand or touched. They come in for dinner.
Visiting the Sanctuary
The visit to the sanctuary is like nothing I have ever seen. Driving up a gravel path to the parking lot, signs warn visitors that bears might be around and to honk if they are in the road. After parking and paying for your admission, there is a covered waiting area while you wait for a school bus to pick you up. Then visitors take a half-mile drive into the magic circle. The bus drops you off at the gate to the viewing platform. There is always a layer of protection between you and the bears.
Up on the platform you are free to roam around and view the bears enjoying their evening meal. The bears like to hang out and congregate here completely free. Some find places to chill, while others will wander around and say Hi to photographers down below. Interns from all over the world come to study the bears here. They are available to answer any of your bear questions and you enjoy. There are no time limits, no rushing, just a relaxing evening with the bears.
This is common sense, but food is not allowed in the sanctuary. You should leave it in the car if you have it. They only want you to bring your camera, sunblock, bug spray and maybe a small backpack with you. The bus will fill up fast, and the less you bring the less you have to worry about. While I was there, someone was trying to fit their car seat in the bus seat.
Get there earlier in the day. The does not open until 5, but the earlier you get there, the better chance you’ll see the bears coming to visit.
Internet is almost nonexistent up here. If you are using GPS to navigate, make sure to get your map set up while you are in the city of Orr, before you turn off the highway. Otherwise, you must resort to an old fashion map. Take note of your way back. If you are coming back from Orr, it’s pretty simple. But in a GPS technology-driven world, this could cause some to panic.
If you want to help the sanctuary out, they are always excepting donations. They need more supplies and bear food. The Sanctuary has a great internship program too. The interns come from all over the world. We met one who was studying in Ireland.
Would I visit again?
In a heartbeat. We had just gotten back from a fishing trip where we saw a bear in the wild. My father-in-law and daughter thought they didn’t need to drive 45 minutes to see bears, considering we saw a wild one. They opted to stay at the cabin. We got back showing them the pictures, and they were so disappointed they didn’t go themselves. Don’t be like them. Whenever you get the chance to go on an epic adventure, do it. Sometimes they end up being lame tourist attractions, but in most cases, I’ve been blown away by what I’ve found. The drive was worth it ten times over. Trust me!